‘A picture is worth a thousand words’
In politics, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. What is the first image that comes into your head when someone says Ed Miliband? One probably cannot think of one. That is the problem. What about if I asked the same question for David Cameron? For Cameron, it is probably pictures of him cycling to work or even dog sledding in the Arctic Circle. Although this may seem trivial, in politics, these are the images which are vivid in the minds of the electorate. If Ed wants to be given the keys to Number 10, he and his advisers need to acknowledge this.
Restyling the party comes from the leader. Party leaders’ images are extremely important and are becoming ever more so. The leaders’ image symbolise the party and often it is the leader which provides a ‘shortcut’ for the electorate which their vote is based on. Cameron ‘used’ every opportunity to illustrate to the public that the Conservative Party was different under his leadership. The leaders’ image makes a huge difference especially for ‘swing voters’, which are so valuable in order to win elections. Just look at the comparison; Cameron in his polo shirts and shorts going out for a run compared to William Hague in his baseball cap or ‘grey’ John Major eating garden peas. The image of the leader whether it is correct or not is vitally important.
However it was not only Cameron who used the ‘power of pictures’. In fact Cameron took his inspiration from Blair who was the first leader of the opposition to first fully embrace the art of symbolic imagery. Blair realised the power of his image by emphasises his fresh approach against the ‘grey’ John Major. His ‘no suit jacket, open collar look’ was just one example to illustrate to the electorate of his ‘freshness’. Blair was constantly having pictures while playing sport and with his family besides him. In fact the 1997 Labour general election broadcast invited the cameras into his kitchen while his children were doing their homework. David Cameron’s actions were all reminiscent of Tony Blair ten years previous.
So what are the images that we associate with Miliband? None? Exactly, this is the issue. Tony Blair and David Cameron took vast amount of time and effort to illustrate to the electorate that under their leadership the party was changing. It was necessary to portray this change to the voters. Ed, on the other hand, has not done this.
Although these images and the focus around the leader are important, I am not suggesting that substantive issues are not imperative. Ed Miliband is making vast strides regaining the support back for the Labour Party which was previously lost. Ed, himself, is part of the process to illustrate to the electorate that the party has changed and is now listening. Miliband started off with apologising for certain policy issues such as the Iraq War, then has had a period of policy reflection. His overarching ‘One Nation’ message seems to be getting through to the electorate and the polls seem to be in his favour. However effectively using images, especially around Ed himself is what the Miliband team is lacking.
Now more than ever, especially in the 24 hour media cycle, elections are often not won and lost on policy but between the leaders’ image. Today is less about the battle of ideas but more of a battle of the symbolic pictures. These ‘pictures’ stay in the minds of the electorate. Everyone remembers the famous ‘kitchen pictures’ where Cameron was washing up, his children eating breakfast with his photogenic wife. These symbolic images help to restyle the party, as especially in politics; ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. David Cameron and Tony Blair before him realised and ‘used’ such images to their advantage and Miliband needs to do the same.